Full on with Florida fixed-tilt solar
OMCO Solar has been working with Moss Solar to complete six utility scale projects totaling more than 600 MW in Florida, which will be the largest fixed-tilt portfolio in OMCO's history.
By Tony Kryzanowski
Even in today’s challenging business environment, it’s evident that renewable energy construction is not slowing down if the hiring plans of one Florida-based engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) firm is any indication.
The company, Moss Solar, recently completed six solar projects for a major Florida power utility with U.S.-based, OMCO Solar, as their fixed-tilt racking supplier.
“There is no lack of projects in this industry,” says Todd Jensen, Director of Business Development at Moss. “There is a nation-wide push in an industry that is just exploding in a very positive way, creating extremely good opportunities from a career perspective.”
He adds that they are hiring approximately 20 new, full-time employees per month just to keep up with demand and growth.
“We’re not alone in that,” says Jensen. “All of our competitors are doing the exact same thing because of the massive rocket ship that is the renewables industry from year to year and going forward.”
Moss is doubling its delivery capacity, ramping up from being able to install two gigawatts of renewable power to four gigawatts per year for project developers.
However, COVID-19 related supply chain disruptions are rattling businesses everywhere in North America and EPCs like Moss are feeling it like everyone else. That’s why partnering with domestic companies like racking supplier, OMCO Solar, with its commitment to investing in America, is important.
OMCO Solar supplied its OMCO Choice Direct-Bolt Mounting System on all six of the utility-scale, Florida-based projects. The racking supplier is parlaying its long history in steel manufacturing to become a major, domestic provider of fixed-tilt and tracking systems. According to Jason Burkett, Business Development Manager at OMCO Solar, the company and its products are in huge demand.
They supply fixed-tilt racking systems of any size to the solar market and their OMCO Origin Factory-Direct Trackers currently up to about 50 megawatts (MW) in size. They plan to start supplying the Origin Tracker for projects of 100 MW and larger in 2023.
The Florida solar projects totaled more than 600 MW and used 1.85 million solar panels supplied by BYD, Trina Solar and SUMEC. The inverters were supplied by TMEIC.
These projects in central and southern Florida are supplying enough renewable power for approximately 90,000 homes. The projects set a record at OMCO Solar as the largest fixed-tilt supply contract in the company’s history.
|OMCO Solar supplied its OMCO Choice Direct-Bolt Mounting System on all six of the utility-scale, Florida-based projects. The racking supplier is parlaying its long history in steel manufacturing to become a major, domestic provider of fixed-tilt and tracking systems.|
All six projects were delivered despite the supply and construction challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The projects varied in size from 450 acres to 550 acres on flat terrain. Several of the locations have been re-purposed temporarily for solar power generation from agricultural use. In Florida, solar arrays are particularly susceptible to strong storms and sometimes even hurricane-force winds. So, because the racking system is so critical to the overall structural integrity of the entire array, the supplier must be aware of the performance requirements over time needed for this environment.
Burkett says all of the Florida sites supplied by OMCO Solar were designed for high wind loads, varying from 135 mile-per-hour to 159 mile-per-hour wind speeds. In some areas of the state, because of high wind loads, fixed-tilt is the prescribed racking solution and that was the case on these six projects. The power utility required that the combination of the racking system with the solar modules had to be tested at the highest wind load ratings for each site.
“We had to work with each of the panel manufacturers to certify that our attachments met those loads,” says Burkett, and the strength of the company’s Choice direct-bolt system delivered outstanding performance.
He adds that OMCO Solar addressed the requirements for each site and used a number of remedial measures in the racking system design and materials depending on if the modules were located near the outer edge or the interior of the array. For example, the pilings were heavier gauge steel around the exterior and lighter gauge in the interior.
“It’s a mixture of material thickness and additional bracing to meet the load requirements on the different parts of the project site,” Burkett says.
Also, because of Florida’s seasonally wet weather, all of the sites had a requirement for a 24” module leading edge from ground level.
It goes without saying that the phrases, ‘Buy America’ and ‘Buy Local’ are getting a lot more than just a passing glance these days from developers faced with international shipping costs that in some cases have increased tenfold in the past two years. That’s why the benefits of working with a local solar racking supplier like OMCO Solar, with its excellent track record and quality workmanship, is garnering the attention of many.
Burkett says that they are definitely witnessing the benefits of investing in four strategically located manufacturing plants in the United States.
“Moss chose OMCO’s racking system for several reasons. Our nationwide footprint and manufacturing capacity in all four plants mean we maintain the shortest lead times in the industry,” he says. “Also, our Choice system has a pre-assembled tilt bracket assembly which helps to reduce field labor between 20 and 25 percent. We offer benefits that other competitors can’t deliver.”
Jensen confirms that the main reasons why Moss chose OMCO Solar as their fixed-tilt racking system supplier on these six projects were the focus on domestic manufacturing, the ease of installation, and how well they support their products.
“Their manufacturing expertise and reliable supply chain were key differentiators when it came to comparing them to other options we had,” says Jensen. “There are definitely shorter lead times when working with the OMCO team. In fact, we are seeing longer lead times with our suppliers that are bringing in the majority of their materials from overseas.”
Burkett says that while OMCO Solar is delivering C-piles within 8 to 10 weeks, competitors are currently experiencing much longer lead times due to global supply chain issues.
However, the Florida projects definitely experienced their share of supply chain disruptions as well. It really took a group effort with everyone partnering together and “rolling up their sleeves” to find a solution.
|The Florida sites supplied by OMCO Solar were designed for high wind loads, varying from 135 mile-per-hour to 159 mile-per-hour wind speeds. In some areas of the state, because of high wind loads, fixed-tilt is the prescribed racking solution and that was the case on these six projects.|
“I think the biggest challenge was just getting trucks available once materials were ready to get it to the site,” says Jensen. “We worked with OMCO directly to find and source trucks.”
Burkett concurred that finding available trucks was a constant challenge.
Moss has even purchased a few of its own trucks, realizing that its EPC role is changing to include more logistics, while taking nothing for granted.
“We are sending employees to ports and making sure that if materials are coming in on a ship, that they get to their destination,” says Jensen. “The days of assuming that arrival and delivery will just happen are in the past, at least for the time being.”
There were important lessons learned from building during a pandemic; probably the most important was the need for resiliency and the ability to react in timely ways to achieve project milestones—both delivery and budget.
Jensen says what they are witnessing today as an EPC is an even greater desire for partnership amongst all players from the developer down, with the overall goal of overcoming major issues like materials costs and transportation. The key word today is ‘strategic’ as developers and suppliers look for ways to lock in certainty of materials pricing while working together to overcome supply chain and transportation challenges. Those transportation issues are both domestic and international.
Owners and developers are concerned with project costs because they have become more expensive compared to pre-pandemic estimates. Companies like Moss and OMCO Solar are laser-focused on tracking costs and trends to help their clients in their decision making.
So far, Jensen says that they have not witnessed a lot of projects being put back on the shelf but there have been delays as some in the industry look for more clarity and pathways through today’s development challenges. Based on the current level of construction activity, many developers have opted to soldier forward and manage challenges as best they can. The desire to build is there but the question is how and when, going forward.
“We are working with our clients to do the best we can to strategize with them on ways to lessen impacts as much as possible,” he says.
To put the current development climate into perspective, those involved in building and expanding facilities within any energy sector are facing the same price escalations and supply chain challenges.
“The impacts that we are feeling, everyone is feeling essentially in every industry for slow lead times, slow delivery and higher cost. So, there is an impact in the cost going up, but it is across the board for all energy sources and obviously we are seeing it in the gasoline prices at the pump,” Jensen says.
However, he concludes that renewable power is still extremely cost-effective in comparison to all other options.